by: Stephen T. Lawson [ ]
In the hands of England’s Naval Aviators the unconventional Sopwith Triplane was to prove itself well in the hostile skies of 1917. “. . . the 110hp Clerget 9z powered Sopwith Triplane prototype N500 was approved on 28 May 1916, only 4 months after the Pup prototype. It was sent to France in mid June 1916 for trials with A Sqn (later 1 Naval Sqn) RNAS where it was reportedly sent into action as soon as it arrived. A 2nd prototype, the 130hp Clerget 9b powered N504, was flying by August 1916 and was similarly dispatched to France for trials. Even more powerful and maneuverable than the highly respected Pup, Sopwith’s new Triplane or ‘Tripehound’ (often shortened to ‘Tripe’) as it became known, was an instant hit with the young RNAS pilots lucky enough to fly them. . .” (Ed. Note quote from WNW instructions kit 32008.)
Original contracts call for 220 airframes to be manufactured but after some cancelled orders that was cut down. In their instructions WNW quote a total of about “146 - 150” airframes manufactured. I am of the opinion it is closer to 153 with at least 8 more airframe serials still unaccounted for. (Some of the French loaned machines have no recorded British serials). Included with the overall numbers there were six twin-gun Triplanes manufactured by sub-contractors Clayton & Shuttleworth (N533-538), three by Oakley (N5910-5912), and one ‘special’ (N5445) aircraft by the parent company, Sopwith. This one had a twin gun installation under a hump (similar to the Sopwith F.1 Camel) and broader rudder.
Only four of the Clayton Shuttleworth machines saw combat, 2 airframes (N533 & N536) with Naval 10, 1 machine (N534) with Naval 1, and 1 (N535) with the Manston War School. The Manston machine shot its propeller off. The Naval 1 machine was flown by a couple of their minor aces for some time without result, it was then flown by Flt./Lt. Dallas once and he made a claim in it. Of the 2 Naval 10 machines, Flt./Lt. Collishaw flew it (N533) for several weeks suffering gun problems in every flight, then he made two claims on one patrol. It was then flown by F/S/Lt. Alexander who hated it, and it quickly ended up as the commander’s hack. The other machine (N536) was flown by Nick Carter who also hated it, and it was passed downwards, and fairly soon ended up getting shot down (on 14.8.17 F/S/Lt. Lloyd was brought down by Uffz. Steudel of Jasta 3.)
As a model, it has been a favorite subject for decades. The kit we will discuss here is of course is the new 1:32 scale Wingnut Wings release of Sir Thomas Sopwith’s “Tripehound”. As usual the folks in New Zealand’s magic cottage have given us some great choices in this kit, varying from the single to the two gunned versions, the French Centre d’ Aviation Maritime or British RNAS markings. Lots of detail and some of the fine engineering WNW has come to be known for.
127 Plastic Parts
012 Photoetch parts
005 colour profiles
024 page colour instruction monograph
Page 1 First we start with the typical WNW general instructions & colour matches for paint. Note that there are several good decal sheets available now that replicate the contrasting wood grain.
Page 2 We find the parts maps
Step 1. The Cockpit, The flooring (PP F 9), wooden supports (A 11 & 35) and the control column (PP A 20 & B 15) are the first assembly. The seat lap belts (P 5 & 6) should be passed over a heat source several times to soften them further. Understand this does not mean inserting it into an open flame for 30 seconds. The belts may then be painted either flat Leather and canvas type colors. After they dry I pass them over 600-1800 grit sanding film to remove the paint from the raised brass buckles and eyelets. Using a flat colour will allow you to anneal the pieces in place over the seat (PP B 13 ). Note before you add the harness assembly you may want to paint the “armoured”seat to look like a ‘steel’ (termed ‘bullet proof’) version as this was what the parent company called for in their specification plans. See notes at the end of this article.
Most components of the cockpit framing (PP A 11, 14, 17, 20, 28, 29 & 35 ) needs to simulate varnished wood. I will paint a base coat of acrylic buff or linen colour. When thoroughly dry I will apply a clear flat coat. When that is dry, I will begin streaking a brown enamel wash over the area with an older brush. Several coats may be needed. Again note that for some larger areas flooring & instrument panel wood grain decals can be used effectively.
Some of the paint drops associated with parts in step 1 have identity letters but are simply black one should be steel. The fuel tank air pressure hand pump (PP A 1 ) should have the metal air supply line leading forward to the engine compartment painted brass as well. That is the 90 degree elbow on pilot’s right fuselage side frame (PP A 14).
Step 2. Cockpit continued, Note that either the single or twin Vickers machine gun version can be built. All hardware items of metal can be painted aluminum with black knobs and handles or medium grey entirely. The single gun instrument panel (PP A 7 ) placements are air speed indicator (decal 76), altimeter (decal 81), compass (PP B 17 ) (decal 75), tachometer (decal 74), fuel gauge (decal 79), info placard (decal 78) and in the lower left corner of the instrument panel is the oil pulsometer. The round twin magneto switches are shown in brass. The starting magneto is in aluminum. The twin gun instrument panel (PP A 5 ) version includes a horizon bubble. Note the differing rear gun supports for the singe or twin version.
Page 5 Colour images of Sopwith N6920. Note there are some modern fixtures on this machine.
Page 6 Model interior colour & rigging guide. The reason that there are thee colours of the same diameter rigging is to make it clear what each set had as pathways for their use on the original aircraft.
Step 3. Fuselage exterior, Choose the cowling side panels that go with your profile choice for your build. Both the Oakley and at least one of the Clayton & Shuttleworth twin gun set ups used the larger oval access panels. Fit the adjustable tail piston (PP B 11 ) and skid (PP A 32)parts. Go ahead now and unite the fuselage halves (PP A 13 & 18 ) and the cockpit assemblies from step 2. Check your references.
Step 4. Fuselage upper forward deck (PP A 21 or 22) & Vickers gun(s) (PP B 1 ? X 2) setup discusses the single and twin-Vickers machine gun assembly (PP B 1 ? X 2 ). Note to do the rear braces (A 4 X 2 or 9) should add next. These go from the underside of the Vickers gun breech(s) to the end cap of the middle wing. Cocking handle(s) (PE 1) and Vickers end cap (PE 2) can be added too.
Step 5 Tail planes come in early (PP B 8 ) and late (PP A 6 ) variants. The vertical fin (PP A 15 ) does not sit flat on the tail plane and I suggest brass pins added to predrilled hoels to help you keep the rudder stable. The lower wing (PP D 1 ) allow you to install the clear pulley inspection windows (PP C 4 X 4). Instead of the usually interplane struts in previous kits were one piece. WNW have done these each in 2 pieces. Here add the lower ends (PP F 4 & 5 ).
Step 6. Middle wings & their struts notes the various types of pitot tubes used for the profile you have chosen. Instead of the usual interplane struts being one piece they have done these each in 2 piceces with one alternate for the pitot tube. Here add the upper ends (PP F 18 X 2 or A 23 ). The empty shell chutes should match the single or twin Vickers set up. The optional PE patches (PE F 3 X 2 ) that is offered is for the rigging that passes through the leading edge of the middle wings (PP D 2 & 3 ).
Step 7. The top wing (PP D 4 ) has three clear pulley inspection windows (PP C 3 & 4 X 2 ). Note: I would add each aileron (PP D 5 - 10 ) and their control horns to the wing before they are mounted on the cabane or interplane struts. Also the aileron contact points for the wing sockets should use smaller type brass pins attached through predrilled holes in both the wing and aileron.
Step 8. Next is the Clerget rotary in either 110hp 9z or 130hp 9b versions. From what we have gleaned recently is that photo evidence says the 110hp was used in some front line machines instead or in lieu of an available the 130hp. This must go to available replacements in the field or at the factory. The eingine is located on the “E” sprue for this kit and is typical for WNW products. The single telling difference for these parts is the push rod shroud on the crankcase cover (PP E 1 or 2 ). From the accounts we have the French built Clergets were preferred above British manufactured types.
Step 9. Undercarriage, propellers & details. Production Sopwith fighters including the triplane employed the use of split axles. The undercarriage is typical consisting of a set of Vee legs ( PP A 25 & 26 ) a simulated split axle (PP A 30 ), wheels ( PP B 4 X 2, 6 X 2, 7 X 2 ). I would also put brass pins in the ends of the Undercarriage “Vees” to be pushed into pre-drilled holes in the fuselage for better stability. Dry mount the plastic Clerget motor assembly from step 8 and be sure to only glue the mounting shaft that goes through the firewall (PP A 16 ) from step 4. The the cowling ring (PP A 33 ) and the lower cowling shroud (PP A 34 ) are next. Finally the “Lang” company propeller (PP F 8 ) was common on the 130hp and (PP F 17 ) was used on the 110hp at least here in profile “E”. The British propeller(s) should be a solid rich red brown colour. More often than not this was a shellac often seen on French Propellers as well. These won’t show any wood grain. Some props were stained then clear varnished. Check your references.
Page 14 Rigging diagram is given for the external surfaces here in the continued three colours to note the pathways each type took.
Page 15 Real triplane images of N5355.
Page 16 Profile A Sopwith Triplane F4 “4" Centre d’ Aviation Maritime, Dec. 1916 to Jan 1917
Page 17 Profile B Sopwith Triplane N534 “F” F.H.M. Maynard, R.P. Minifie, R.S. Dallas Naval (N) 1 Sqdn, August 1917.
Page 18 Profile B continued and profile C Sopwith Triplane N5427 “13" F.H.M Maynard, Naval (N) 1 Sqdn, April 1917.
Page 19 Profile D Sopwith Triplane ex-N5429 in German markings. Was flown by Flt. Sub Lt.J.R Wilford of Naval (N) 1 Sqdn when he was brought down on 13 September 1917 by Ltn Kurt Wustoff of Jasta 4.
Page 20 Profile E Sopwith Triplane N6301 “Dusty II” R. McDonald Naval (N) 8 Sqdn, May 1917.
Page 21 Full image of N5438.
Page 22 More images and a list of contributors to the Sopwith Triplane project. Mark Miller a well known virtual image artish and has credits that list even the movie “King Kong”, Steve Anderson, Ronny Bar and Richard Alexander all well known for their continued valuable contributions to our hobby.
"And Now the Onions" by G. Mottram, Cross & Cockade Int. Vol.12, #3, Hangar Notes. 1981.
British Fighter Units 1917-18 by A. Revell, Osprey Pub. Ltd. 1978.
‘Report on...USSR Symposium’ by C. Bobrow , WWI Aero #124, Pp.85-87. May 1989.
Royal Navy Aircraft Serials 1911-1919 by R. Sturtivant & G. Page , Air Britain, 1992.
Sopwith Triplane, WWI Aero #91.
Sopwith Triplane Aces of WWI by Norman Franks, Ospry Aircraft of the Aces #62, 2004.
The Fighting Triplanes by E. Hadingham, Macmillian Co. 1968.
‘The Only British Triplane...’ by E. Sheldon, Aviation History, March 1995.
The Sopwith Fighters by J.M. Bruce, Vintage Warbirds #3, Arms & Armour Press, 1986.
The Sopwith Triplanes by J.M.Bruce, Profile Pub. #73, 1966.
The Sopwith Triplane by J.M.Bruce, Datafile #22, Albatros Pub. Ltd. 1990.
The Sopwith Triplane Eduard issues- 'Stairway to Combat', Model Aircraft Monthly, June 2002.
Triplane Losses by R. Collishaw, Cross & Cockade USA Vol 8, #2, Summer 1967.
Triplane Losses by F. Bailey & S. Taylor, Over the Front V.10, #4, Pp. 312-334, Winter, 1995.
Triplane Losses Addenda Over the Front Vol 11, #2, P.186.Summer, 1996.
Triplane Photos- Cross & Cockade Int. Vol 5, #1, P.40, Spring 1974.
Notes on the two gunned types
Notes by authority Mike Wheet;
‘...The three Oakley machines were . . . "disarmed" almost immediately and initially served in the Manston War School. They ended up at different training establishments, Marske, Sedgeford, and Shoreham. One of them (N5912) miraculously survived and is in the RAF Museum. The Sopwith machine (N5445) spent its life at the Isle of Grain Armament Experimental Station. The gun installations were somewhat different, different mounting brackets, doubling up on cartridge chutes, and ammunition feed/bins. A totally different synchronisation system was used, Sopwith Kauper as opposed to Scarfe-Dibovski on the single gun. According to the Sopwith drawings, the engines would appear to have been the normal 130hp Clerget - Yes, I know the machine in the Hendon museum has the long stroke Clerget, but this engine was fitted much later during one of its many restorations... There was no more armour plate on the twin gun machine than there was on the single gun machine - if you can call "bullet proof steel", which was specified for the seat and the fuel tank, as armour plating. Collishaw thought the two guns were worth the performance "hit", most of the other pilots didn't agree. I would say that both Collishaw and Dallas were so aggressive that they would have scored in whatever they flew...’
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